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Artist Interview: Kaff-eine

March 4, 2020
15 min read
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Kaff-eine has gained a strong following in Australia for her illustrative freehand style, delicate linework, and quiet melancholic characters placed on the streets of her hometown, Melbourne. Outside her country she has painted public and private works in Germany, France, USA and the Philippines; including successful solo and group shows. We reached her for a very nice chat about her work and the recently co-founded ‘cheeseagle’, a creative collective who make art projects designed for exhibition and social impact.

Hey Kaff, let’s start from your latest solo show “Southern Wild”, how hard has it been to develop the whole thing, and what kind of emotion do you feel now that it is over?
Well, it wasn’t that hard; it was more feeling the pressure to honour the wonderful folks who posed for me. Knowing that their portraits would be seen by a wide audience, even if they didn’t recognise the people, I put pressure on myself to record their every freckle, scar and fold; everything that makes a body, unique, powerful and sexy. None of the folks who posed for those characters were ‘models’, and most of them hadn’t posed nude before, so it was really special. The show was the first time I’d ever felt  that everything was exactly as I wanted: the venue, a 100 year old disused Tallow factory, was stunning, and actually inspired the whole show. The portraits were all exactly as I’d planned, framed perfectly, and lit spectacularly. The entire space was lit perfectly, including an old liftable that we repurposed into a Photo Booth with skulls and bones, for people to pose inside. The music was curated by one of the models; it was so perfect and atmospheric that people were in tears. It was powerful, lush and beautiful, and people exactly as I wanted it to. I didn’t ever want the show to end!
Looking at several street art exhibitions, I think the hardest thing for a street artist is to transpose the same feeling from the streets in to a closed space like a gallery. Obviously the “surprise effect” fades away, but in your case it looks like you overcome this limit. Is it your painting background?
I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it like that, but thanks for the compliment! I think if you have real meaning behind your art, a distinct message to convey as opposed to showing technical skills or effects, that it doesn’t matter what context your art is seen in; people will react in a similar way. I’m interested in finding the right avenues for my messages; whether that’s a big wall, a silo, a tiny painting on paper, or a whole solo show or a film, I don’t mind.
I think that the first message coming from your art is always an invitation to look beyond, to discover life in a different sense, to pull out the joyful aspect that resides in us. What has brought into your life the artistic expression?
I think I’m a pretty positive and passionate person, who finds joy everywhere, even in the midst of some pretty objectively terrible situations. I don’t shy away from the negative or dark elements, because they’re all part of human experience, but I enjoy encouraging others to see beauty and positivity, so that usually comes out in my work. I love the potential of art to rupture our everyday routines and thoughts, and take us elsewhere, challenge us in some way.
Throw me for a moment in your production process. How do you usually start? Do you basically draw your sketches on paper or do you start from somewhere else?
For everything, it starts as a pencil sketch on leftover paper. Depending om the project, I might mock up a colour painting as a guide, but usually I do a pencil sketch, and then go straight on to either the wall, the paper, the canvas, or the film crew! I grew up drawing, and I still think that pencil and paper is the best way for me to develop ideas. Everything comes from drawing. Oh, apart from quick throw-ups which I do spontaneously, with whatever materials I have at hand!

How long it usually takes between the original idea and its realization on the streets or on a canvas?
It depends on the individual project. Simple one-off images with no artist brief, and a small wall, can take a single day from start to finish. More complex projects that involve collaboration with other artists, or groups of folks who aren’t artists, can take a few days to design and a few more to paint, depending on their level of skills and the size of the wall. Large walls, which require colour mock-ups for me to refer to while painting the big piece, can take weeks to complete; the longest I’ve spent was definitely the silo in Rosebery as part of the Silo Art Trail. It took a couple of weeks to research the right models, photograph and sketch them, paint mock-ups in full colour; then I had to paint those silos! It took 3 weeks to paint them, but stretched over 6 weeks because literally half the time it was too windy out there in that remote desert town to legally use the boom lift. It was worth it, though; I love how they turned out, and its led to some ongoing friendships in the area, which is ace.
I’ve always been interested in the artistic urgency that drives you to communicate an idea outdoor, visible to all. What is your relationship with this inner need, how long it last the satisfaction for a fresh completed piece?
Sometimes I see a beautiful old wall, an abandoned space, or a great context and immediately know how I’d like to paint and what I want to paint there. Usually I’ll already have issues, themes, or images in my head that are just waiting for the right wall to come out. I love the process of painting in those spaces, and I love the feeling when I step back and see the finished result. Once it’s finished, I feel great, but I’m usually pretty quickly on to the next piece, so its not like I forget it, but my energy quickly shifts to the next interesting, engaging thing I’m doing. My ADD means I never think too long about the work I’ve done, I’m always focused on the next thing. 
Most of the artists claim to be original, saying something new or better than others. But looking at the infinite artistic production achieved so far is very hard not to find something mentioned earlier. I know it’s hard to admit, but if you had to choose one artist or an artistic movement, of who would you say, “Well, I took something from him/her, I’m in debit with him/her”?
Definitely Ghostpatrol. He and Miso really inspired me to start painting my characters in the streets. I didn’t really think my characters belongs there, or even considered doing them there, until I was struck by their work and how it made me feel. I realised that my work could do similar things for others. Then a few years later, seeing Herakut’s work in the flesh gave me the kick up the arse I needed to push myself, lift my work, paint better, and not be shy about including my own beliefs and interests in the work. Meeting them really gave me a great model for how to conduct yourself as a public artist, I loved watching them interest with the public as they worked, and it still influences me today.
How much is hard for you to promote your work? I mean, do you have a good relationship with the social media and the promotion of your works online, or is it something you consider necessary but it doesn’t convince you at all? 
Hah! At the moment I’m shadowbanned on Instagram, and I don’t know how to fix that, so it’s a struggle to reach folks who don’t already follow me! My website is also woefully out of date, which doesn’t help. I get so caught up with making images that I forget to update my media and ways to communicate it with the world, so I have to get better at that! You know, my studio works are nudes, but they’re paintings, and they’re not even violent, pornographic, erotic or even sexualised, they’re just nude. So it upsets me when social media deems it inappropriate or offensive, especially given that my whole work recently has been about celebrating everyday bodies and removing the shame around nudity and the spectrum of bodies. Plus, they’re painting not drawings, so they should never be censored. So I guess really I don’t do a great job of promoting my work online; to be honest I’m far more interested in creating the work, making progressively better work, getting more skilled at it, than being on social media. It’s a powerful tool and I guess I’d better get better at using it, so that I can share my work with more folks. 
It’s definitely been handy when I want to encourage folks to collaborate with me on projects, and it was great in my earlier years, as it enabled people to find me before I had a larger profile, definitely Facebook helped share and spread my earlier works around. It’s also been great recently, during the bushfires, when I shared news about my fundraising prints; folks shared my posts, making sure that others knew about the print release, and it was a great success! We’ve just posted out the first batch of prints, which have raised thousands of dollars for the CFA + RFS! They’re open edition, so people can continue to order them, with 100% profits going to the dear fries working so hard to fight the fires.   
How do you organize your working week? Do you have fixed days for new ideas, others for outdoor interventions, others for promotion … or don’t you follow a pre-established schedule?
No, I hate routine, and the way that I work, it isn’t really possible. Some weeks I’ll be in the studio 7 days working on shows; other weeks I’ll be doing workshops with kids in regional Australia preparing to make a mural; some weeks I’ll be in Arnhemland working with Indigenous communities on murals; sometimes I’ll be overseas, working on my social impact films and projects. I also deliver lectures, talks, and mentor folks regularly too. There isn’t a way of establishing a routine, other than I like to start late and work late. When preparing for a show, I like to have large blocks of uninterrupted time in the studio, so I try to arrange for that; other than that, I plan my weeks according to what neat projects I’m doing.  
Let’s play with time: you’ve booked a dinner table for 4, and you can invite whomever you want from Ramses II to Billie Eilish. Tell me your DDT, Dinner Dream Team.
Oh easy. My dear friends Melinda, Stanislava, and my parents; I’ll sit on the floor! I never get to spend enough time with these 4 together or separately, so any chance I get to grab them for dinner I would take it, and we’d stay in the restaurant until they kicked us out!
Then I am generous and I give you a second super power: you can take something from the present, anything you want, an iPhone, or a Tesla, maybe Facebook or Google Maps and bring it as a gift to an historical figure. Who do you choose and what do you bring?
Haha nice question! Wow. Ok… I’d give a copy of Mabo v Queensland (No 2) to Captain James Cook in 1770 as he approached what is now called Australia for the first time. Then he’s see that Terra Nulls didn’t apply to one single centimetre of Australia, because First Nations folks inhabited and were custodians of all of the land, and the coast; he’d have to piss off, and never begin the violent colonisation of this country without a treaty or payment, a process that continues till this day. Can you imagine who different the world would be? Heavy choice, I know! But it was the first thing I could think of, apart from giving Joan of Arc my awesome old V8 F100 to go to war in!
Hahaha….Don’t say it twice or it will become an instant meme… I guess our time is running out, let’s leave ourselves with your vision for 2020. Please tell me the projects you would like to achieve, and something you would finally get rid of?
Well, I’m keen to do more neat collab walls in Arnhemland, I want to paint many more nude deer hunters, and fix my social media shadowban! I also want to start looking in to good places to exhibit my work un Europe and the USA; I think it’s time for me to do that. And many other things…
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